Milwaukee musicians gather to play at the city’s crime scenes

Posted at 7:32 PM, Aug 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-17 19:51:03-04

(CNN) — There’s a new kind of first responder to some crime scenes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: musicians.

Toting their violin, viola and bass cases, they set up among the investigating police and reporters scrambling to get the story after a shooting. And soon the mournful sound of a spiritual, like “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” fills the night.

The Black String Triage Ensemble, with seven members ranging in age from 11 to 70-something, has played at more than a dozen crime scenes this summer, according to CNN affiliate WISN.

Dayvin Hallmon founded the volunteer group of string musicians this year. The group, made up of African-Americans and Latinos, aims to be a “healing force” for communities coping with violence, he said.

The musicians play not so much for the immediate victims and their relatives. For those people, “the trajectory of healing, and dealing with that, is so much longer” than the music can span, Hallmon said.

Rather, the music is meant mainly for “everybody else, the person down the street, for everybody in that space who has to drink that aftermath,” Hallmon said.

On Friday, the group showed up at the scenes of two different shootings in the city, WISN reported. First, they played at a location where a man had been shot that afternoon. Then, they moved blocks away, where a man had been shot in the legs.

Hallmon told CNN he doesn’t ask police about the details of what happened at the scene. He’s just happy they don’t ask him to leave.

“I don’t need to know,” he said.

‘I’ll sleep better tonight knowing you are here’

The group plays on certain weekends that Hallmon set aside for the group to be on call. Volunteers have to be ready to respond during the on-call weekends, as well attend practice dates.

The first time the group played after a shooting, Hallmon said, a woman came out in her bathrobe as they were packing up to leave. She introduced herself as the mother of the person who had been shot.

“I will sleep better tonight knowing you are here,” she said, according to Hallmon.

“What’s amazing about this is that from the feedback, this has hit every single marker” he set for the group from the outset, Hallmon said.

The group plays a six-song set

The group plays a set that goes through five stages of grief: a spiritual for denial; classical music for anger; jazz for bargaining; then blues and soul music for depression and acceptance. All the music is by African-American composers, including Duke Ellington and Curtis Mayfield.

The group concludes with a sixth song, for faith.

“If we don’t believe the situation is going to better, as humans, we’re not going to go forward,” Hallmon said. “Something has to convince you that it’s going to get better.”

A trip to Washington helped plant the idea

Hallmon said he plays seven instruments and has been a church musician since he was about 9.

He said he began getting the idea for the group during a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

“Something said to me: ‘Address the life condition,’ ” Hallmon said. “I said, ‘I don’t know what that means.’ ”

Back at his hotel room, he watched Oprah Winfrey on TV, and heard her talk about childhood trauma, saying there has to be a way to fix the hole in the soul of people, Hallmon recalled.

That’s when it hit him, he said: “The answer is music.”

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Originally Published: 17 AUG 19 15:52 ET